It was hard for Eastern Kentucky University coach Mark Elder to hold back his emotions.

He sighed and paused as he tried to gather himself. His voice cracked.

The magnitude of the moment was undeniable.

"To have the opportunity to coach this team has meant the world to me. I love these guys," Elder said in a postgame radio interview.

Elder's team finished the season with a 29-23 win over the long-time nemesis Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5) on Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala.

It was a bittersweet conclusion.

The victory gave the Colonels (7-5, 5-3 OVC) seven wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2011-2012.

It still marked the end, though.

EKU finished fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference standings and will almost certainly not receive an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

"We had big goals and we fell short of those - and in the worst way," Elder said. "It was right there in our fingertips. That's tough."

Back-to-back losses to Austin Peay and SEMO - the OVC co-champions - on consecutive weekends earlier this month knocked the Colonels out of contention for a championship.

They had two win their final two games of the season to secure a winning season for a second-straight season.

EKU beat Tennessee Tech, 22-10, last week at home, then snapped a six-game losing streak against Jacksonville State on Saturday.

"Quitters quit. Fighters fight. And we fought," Elder.

The Colonels had to fight to beat the Gamecocks for the first time since 2012.

Senior kicker Sam Hayworth tied a school record with five field goals and sophomore running back Alonzo Booth scored his OVC-best 14th rushing touchdown of the season.

Sophomore receiver Jackson Beerman also had a touchdown catch.

The game was tied at halftime, 9-9.

After three first-half field goals (34, 24 and 25 yards), EKU finally got into the end zone on the first possession of the third quarter. Senior Daryl McCleskey had a 20-yard run and a first-down catch, which set up a 17-yard TD pass from Conner Blount to Beerman.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Parker McKinney was injured last week and not able to play against Jacksonville. Blount, a redshirt junior transfer from Oregon State, started the first four games of the season, but had seen limited action since.

He completed 18-of-35 passes for 172 yards and his first touchdown of the season. He also did not throw an interception and had 31 yards rushing.

"I thought Conner played outstanding," Elder said. "He extended plays. He was extremely smart with the ball. He threw it away when he needed to throw it away. He didn't try to make plays when they weren't there. He looks like a veteran out there because he's played a lot of football."

KJ Stepherson's second TD catch of the game tied the game again, 16-16.

The Colonels responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard TD run by Booth.

Hayworth hit a career-long 50-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and connected from 28 yards later to give EKU a 29-16 lead.

Jamie Lovett is the only other kicker in program history with five field goals (1983 vs. Youngstown State).

Hayworth missed a 48-yard attempt in the first half, but still hit 18-of-22 attempts during his senior season and also connected on all 37 of his extra-points.

"You hope to see your seniors play their best in their last game," Elder said. "A bunch of seniors went out there and played their hearts out."

Several other seniors shined in their final college game.

McCleskey finished with 110 yards on 24 carries and two catches for 27 yards. It was his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. He wrapped up his career with 2,707 rushing yards, including 1,238 this season - the most in the OVC.

Senior defensive lineman Aaron Patrick also had a memorable performance.

The Dayton, Ohio, native had two sacks, three tackles and a forced fumble. He brought down Zerrick Cooper on the final play of the game, pushing his career sack total to 27.5 - the second most in school history (Greg McKee - 29).

The Gamecocks got a third TD catch from Stepherson with 1:24 left in the game and were able to get another offensive chance in the closing seconds.

EKU, however, controlled possession for most of the second half. The Colonels had the ball for 20:50 in the final two periods.

"If you keep the ball, extend the drive and take time off the clock, that's huge. We were able to do that," Elder said.

The Colonels finished with 396 yards (203 rushing, 193 passing), had 26 first downs and converted on all six of their red zone chances. The Gamecocks had 391 yards, but were 3-of-12 on third down.

Booth had 54 yards on 12 rushes and Jerome Glass had six catches for 63 yards.

"We didn't abandon the run. We've got good backs and a good line," Elder said. "We don't have to get seven or eight yards every time. Sometimes its two or three. You keep going and that turns into five or six. We kept it rolling. That eventually led to some big chunk plays."

Jacksonville State had won five-straight OVC titles, but lost five conference games this year and stunningly finished sixth in the standings.

Sill, the Gamecocks were 5-1 at home heading into the season finale.

And they had completed dominated EKU in recent years.

After Patrick finished off any hope of a JSU comeback with the final sack of his outstanding career, the Colonels rushed the field and doused Elder with the remaining contents of a sideline water jug.

"The kids played their hearts out," Elder said. "That's a good team. (JSU) is a very talented team. There's several guys on that team who are going to onto the NFL. our guys played hard and played well and stuck together."

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